Coal Tattoo

Barack ObamaPresident Barack Obama wipes perspiration from his face as he speaks about climate change at Georgetown University in Washington, Tuesday, June 25, 2013.  (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

UPDATED: Here’s the link to the EPA proposed rule, just posted on the agency’s website.

A few hours ago, reporters at The Wall Street Journal broke the story with the first real details of the carbon pollution rules that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to propose tomorrow morning:

The Environmental Protection Agency will propose mandating power plants cut U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions 30% by 2030 from levels of 25 years earlier, according to people briefed on the rule, an ambitious target that marks the first-ever attempt at limiting such pollution.

The rule-making proposal, to be unveiled Monday, sets in motion the main piece of President Barack Obama’s climate-change agenda and is designed to give states and power companies flexibility in reaching the target.

Other stories quickly followed from The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, The Associated Press  … well, just about everybody.

There are obviously a lot of important details to come, and much debate — along with a lot of blustering and nonsense — but there are a few things to keep in mind right off the bat, tonight, and especially tomorrow as the chest-pounding really gets started by coalfield political leaders.

First, if the reporting so far is right, then EPA is choosing a baseline year for emissions reductions — 2005– that many utilities — including the two American Electric Power and FirstEnergy here in West Virginia — should be pleased with.  As The Associated Press explained:

Environmental Protection Agency data shows that the nation’s power plants have reduced carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 13 percent since 2005, or about halfway to the goal the administration will set Monday.

For example, here’s a quick chart (based on data available here) that Evan Hansen, president of Downstream Strategies, posted on Twitter this evening, showing West Virginia emissions already halfway to the overall goal:


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For folks like Rep. Nick Rahall, who like to talk about how President Obama is picking on coal, and not addressing other causes of global warming, there’s this interesting bit of information in The Washington Post’s story:

The proposal, which would cut 500 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually by 2030, ranks as one of Obama’s most-sweeping climate policies. His previous measures to limit carbon emissions in cars and light trucks produced between fleet years 2012 and 2025 will cut 6 billion metric tons of greenhouse-gas emissions over the lifetime of those vehicles.

And over at the Climate Progress blog, there’s this helpful discussion of the role the U.S. can play in moving forward with some sort of global effort to blunt climate change:

America may be the world’s second-biggest carbon emitter, but it remains by far the largest on a per-person basis. It’s also emitted more than any other country historically. And while China and India’s economies are huge, they’re spread over far larger populations than the U.S., and they’re still trying to lift hundreds of millions of their citizens out of very deep poverty. So Americans effectively emitted their way to our current prosperity. Furthermore, because we have so much more wealth per person, we have far more economic room to cut carbon emissions and take risks on developing clean energy than China or India.

What this all means is that trust and goodwill between countries is enormously important to building a cooperative international response to climate change. Because of its position and prosperity, the United States can’t build that goodwill without taking the initiative to cut its own emissions: “It’s not [that] I’m ignorant of the fact that these emerging countries are going to be a bigger problem than us,” Obama told the New Yorker a few months ago. “It’s because it’s very hard for me to get in that conversation if we’re making no effort.”

So when the next round of global climate talks occurs in 2015, we’ll have a far better chance of actually locking down an international treaty to cut global emissions if the United States has already stepped up. Then we can bring other countries on board with their cuts, and then circle back around in a few years for an agreement to cut more. And suddenly that 1.8 percent isn’t a mere 1.8 percent anymore.

In fact, as Reuters explains:

President Barack Obama’s plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. power plants, due to be announced on Monday, will win muted applause abroad with some hopes it could help a U.N. deal to fight climate change in 2015.

Emerging economies including China and India are likely to be lukewarm because they have often said that Obama’s plans for emissions cuts until 2020 – even if fully implemented – are far short of the curbs they say are needed by the rich.

Many nations have been disappointed by Obama’s actions since he took office in 2009 talking of fixing a “planet in peril”. Obama’s plans to legislate cuts in emissions failed in 2010 because of Senate opposition.

“I have increasingly the feeling that the epicenter of success is the United States and China finding common ground in what they are willing to sign up for in Paris,” said Yvo de Boer, who was U.N. climate chief when a 2009 summit in Copenhagen failed to agree a climate treaty.

Writing for Time, Michael Grunwald makes the point that he thinks the Obama administration is carrying out a “war on coal,” but for pretty good reasons:

Obamaworld likes to portray its efforts to clean up power plants as a war on pollution in general, not a war on coal in particular, but it just so happens that coal spews most of the pollution from power plants. It’s America’s leading contributor to global warming, producing three-fourths of our carbon emissions from electricity, even though it generates just over one third of our electricity. It’s also the dominant source of mercury and other toxics that foul our air and damage our health. It’s filthy stuff. When Obama said Saturday that his carbon rules will prevent 100,000 asthma attacks in Year One, he wasn’t describing the health benefits of emitting less carbon dioxide; he was describing the health benefits of burning less coal.

Finally, as we described again in a story in the Sunday Gazette-Mail, remember that the projections show Southern West Virginia coal production continuing to drop in coming years — with or without the EPA carbon pollution rules:

Critics of the industry’s “war on coal” campaign against Obama and the EPA are quick to note that government and private forecasts show that coal production in Southern West Virginia appears headed toward a long and steep decline, even without any action by the EPA to force emissions reductions.

“Even without these carbon pollution limits, West Virginia coal jobs would continue to decline because of growing competition with other coal-producing regions and shale gas,” said Ted Boettner, director of the West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy, which has advocated for more effort to diversify coalfield economies. “We’re all for creating jobs and building a strong economy, but fighting a losing battle against new pollution rules is not going to get us there.”